Mattingly, Dodgers opt to part ways
LOS ANGELES -- Manager Don Mattingly and the Dodgers announced a "mutual parting of the ways" on Thursday, although even with a 40-minute press conference, club president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman couldn't explain why.
"It's unusual. We get that," Friedman said. "But it played out exactly as I described it. It really was mutual. As we got into the back-and-forth, organically it just crystallized. If there was a reason that happened, we would share it. It's not black or white. There's a huge middle, and it's gray, and we're trying to be transparent. We aren't hiding anything."
"There's always a desire to label this -- was he let go, did he resign?" said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "I've had a level of cynicism when I hear 'parting of the ways.' We can sit here with all sincerity, that's how it came about. Donnie feeling like he needed a change, us feeling like taking the organization forward, if that was his state of mind, it organically evolved that maybe it's a good time for a change. There are more intricacies I don't want to get into here, but both sides felt it was time for a change."
Friedman said Mattingly wasn't forced out for the Dodgers' failure -- despite an unprecedented three consecutive division titles -- to reach the World Series.
"We all share in that blame," he said. "It's not falling at the feet of one person. We had a goal and we didn't do it. I never appreciate hearing that not winning the way Game 5 unfolded was Don Mattingly's fault. We all share in that."
He said there weren't philosophical differences or communication breakdowns, there wasn't one specific issue that couldn't be resolved, and the parties talked about a contract extension beyond 2016 during a Monday meeting.
Friedman said he hoped the club's search for a replacement would be concluded before the Winter Meetings in December. Names floated around, even before the sides parted company, including internal candidates Gabe Kapler, Ron Roenicke and Tim Wallach, plus outsiders Bud Black and Dave Martinez. Friedman is a contrarian and could land on names such as Jason Varitek, Alex Cora, Eric Young or Rocco Baldelli. And there are plenty of successful former managers available, such as Dusty Baker, Ron Washington and Ron Gardenhire.
Friedman insisted he went into conversations expecting Mattingly to manage the club in 2016, and he believed Mattingly felt the same.
But by Wednesday, "it was mutually decided that it might be better to part ways and start fresh, and maybe this was the right time to do it. I don't want to get into specifics of it, but that made the most sense for both sides."
He added that Mattingly's coaching staff, all under contract until the end of the month, are free to seek employment elsewhere but would also be considered for positions once a new manager is in place.
Mattingly's departure is the most dramatic of moves to complete the first year in charge for Friedman, who inherited Mattingly from the Ned Colletti regime. The club has recently overhauled the amateur, professional and international scouting departments and the Minor League field staff.
"I'm honored and proud to have had the opportunity to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers," said Mattingly. "I've enjoyed my experiences and relationships with the organization's staff and players throughout my eight years in L.A. After meeting with Andrew, Farhan and [senior vice president of baseball operations] Josh [Byrnes], we all felt that a fresh start would be good for both the organization and me. We talked about several scenarios, including my returning in 2016. However, I believe this is the right time and right move for both parties. I'm still very passionate about managing and hope to get the opportunity in the near future. In the meantime, I want to thank the Dodger organization, the city and our fans for the opportunity and wish the club well going forward."
Mattingly is rumored to be high on the list of candidates to manage Miami and Washington. He has one year remaining on his contract that the Dodgers will pay, and it wasn't clear if money played a part in the final decision.
After being handed the manager baton from mentor Joe Torre five years ago, Mattingly guided the Dodgers to a .551 winning percentage (446-363) and is the only manager in franchise history to finish first three consecutive seasons. But he couldn't get the club back to the World Series. That drought now stands at 27 years, and it was extended last Thursday night when the Dodgers suffered a first-round exit from the postseason for the second year in a row.
The 54-year-old Mattingly, an iconic first baseman with the Yankees as a player, came to the Dodgers as a coach for Torre, and Mattingly was signed to a three-year contract to manage the Dodgers even before Torre stepped aside at the end of the 2010 season.
During his managerial run, Mattingly was praised by players for his professional approach. And as recently as two weeks ago, he was complimented by Zaidi for handling a challenging roster.
This year's roster certainly had its issues, as well as constant changes. Aside from Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, the rotation was decimated by injuries to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, and non-waiver Trade Deadline deals for starters Alex Wood and Mat Latos did not improve the club's postseason chances. The bullpen was erratic, and the offense struggled to score against good pitching, as the Mets proved in the National League Division Series.
Mattingly was never fully embraced by Dodgers fans, who were quick to blame him for every failure regardless of owner, GM or roster composition. Mattingly, however, didn't help his public perception, and he fell short communicating with the fan base over controversial decisions, serving up the generic answer, "It gives us the best chance of winning."
He leaned on that answer increasingly this season while working for a new and confident management team that adores advanced analytics.
Mattingly often said he welcomed the statistical input. Friedman said Mattingly received input from the front office, but had the autonomy to make lineup and game decisions, and speculation that Mattingly was ordered to use lineups prepared by the front office is "just not true."
The Dodgers finished third and second in Mattingly's first two seasons in charge, which were hampered by ownership turmoil and a resulting frugal payroll.
But Mattingly engineered a dramatic comeback in 2013 to win the first of three consecutive division titles, and he finish second for the NL Manager of the Year Award. This season, the Dodgers were in first place for 127 days and won the NL West by eight games -- the largest margin in the league and third-largest for the franchise since divisional play began in 1969.